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Five flaws in Samsung Galaxy S5's TouchWiz

Five flaws in Samsung Galaxy S5's TouchWiz

While it contains impressive hardware, Samsung's new flagship smartphone is let down by its software

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is an evolutionary device; the vendor’s new flagship is better than its predecessor across the board, without quite being revolutionary. But while it houses impressive hardware, it is let down by the infamous TouchWiz, Samsung’s own interface overlay which skins Google’s Android 4.4 Kit Kat operating system with heavy-duty software (and in some cases, gimmicks). Here are five things we don't like about the Galaxy S5's iteration of TouchWiz.

You can read our full review of the Samsung Galaxy S5 here.

It slows down the phone

The Samsung Galaxy S5 houses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset with a 2.5GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM. Theoretically, this should keep a smartphone running smoothly even when playing high-demand mobile games, such as Real Racing 3 and FIFA 14, and running a bunch of processes in the background. But TouchWiz hinders this performance, impacting the overall speed of the device due to the abundance of features included in the software.

RAM usage (with centre of screenshot cropped out).
RAM usage (with centre of screenshot cropped out).

When we switched on the phone (in the sense of a restart, not a first-time boot), the Galaxy S5 was still using a whopping 900MB of RAM, leaving about 925MB free. After we opened a few social networking apps (including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Glassboard, and Google+), 1GB of RAM was being consumed. Once we opened a few more apps (and left them to run in the background), like AccuWeather, FIFA 14, Google Drive, and the MOG digital music streaming service, the figure edged 1.3GB.

Sure, the everyday consumer who uses their smartphone for calls, text messages, social networking, web browsing and some Angry Birds won’t notice the implications of this. But those of you who need the full grunt of the hardware — particularly professionals and developers — will no doubt feel the impact of TouchWiz on performance.

It takes up a lot of storage

The Samsung Galaxy S5’s operating system (Google’s Android 4.4 Kit Kat plus the dense TouchWiz), in addition to the amount of storage required to run the device, consumes 4.4GB of space. If you’re looking to buy the 16GB variant of the smartphone, that’s more than a quarter of your available storage.

The total amount of storage being used on our device. Note that this particular unit did not have any large apps (such as games) installed when this screenshot was taken.
The total amount of storage being used on our device. Note that this particular unit did not have any large apps (such as games) installed when this screenshot was taken.

As expected, Samsung has included a microSD card slot in the Galaxy S5 (which sits on top of the SIM card slot). Although this alleviates the storage woes of the everyday consumer, those of you who rely on the device’s internal memory will be disappointed. For example, those of you who need to keep private, business-related data on your smartphone’s internal memory in order to keep it locked down. After all, the SD card can be easily taken out even before you have the chance to wipe your phone remotely should you lose it or have it stolen.

Unable to remove unused applications

Adding further to the issue of device storage is the fact that the Galaxy S5 comes bundled with a stack of preloaded applications which TouchWiz does not allow you to uninstall. There’s a bunch of Google and Samsung apps, as well as a selection of partnership-related ones. While some prove very useful — such as Smart Remote and S Planner — not all users will require all of them. This means they sit around unused and consume storage even when disabled.

An unrefined menu system

The Samsung Galaxy S4’s settings menu wasn’t perfect, but it worked. It employed a hybrid tab and list system with clearly defined categories. It took a bit of getting used to, but once you’d been through it a few times, it became efficient to manage. The menu system on the Galaxy S5’s version of TouchWiz is a step back from that.

By default, the settings menu is set to Grid View. Icons are nestled within three columns, and the total of nine categories can be expanded and collapsed depending on what you’re after. Certain settings can be frustrating to find as the categories aren’t well defined.

The Galaxy S5's menu systems: Grid, List, and Tab Views.
The Galaxy S5's menu systems: Grid, List, and Tab Views.

Samsung also provides two other view options to suit different users. List View leaves all nine categories permanently expanded, and lists each individual setting in a separate row so you’ll be scrolling away through a long list. Again, some menus seem out of place. The Tab View is the closest to the Galaxy S4’s style (it has the same hybrid approach), but even this mode is cluttered with a total of six tabs (with shorter lists, thankfully) and options that don’t seem very well arranged.

We maintain that the HTC One (M8)’s menu system takes the cake. It’s simple, has a limited number of tabs, and lists sub-categories very clearly.

It limits interface customisations

It seems Australian customers have yet again received the short stick when it comes to customising the home- and lock-screen experience. First and foremost, Galaxy S5 devices bought in Australia will not allow you customise your dock applications; you’re stuck with having Phone, Contacts, Messages, Internet, and the Apps Drawer at the bottom of every home screen. This means that if you prefer Firefox or Chrome, you’ll still have to put up with the Internet Explorer-esque default browser.

Read more: iPad users get access to MobileSputnik

Update, June 12: Samsung issued an update today which now allows you to customise the dock rather than being forced to tolerate the stock apps included at the bottom of the screen.

The Samsung Galaxy S5's default dock cannot be changed unless using third party overlays.
The Samsung Galaxy S5's default dock cannot be changed unless using third party overlays.

The Galaxy S5’s TouchWiz does not allow you to set up lock-screen widgets either. This eliminates the convenience of quick access to apps such as a flashlight, voice recorder, camera, and so on. Note that these restrictions do not apply to all regions.

One thing we very much appreciated is that once you set up the Smart Remote app, a lock-screen widget can be added, but it replaces the clock instead of adding a second page. It’s a good way to flick through channels without finding the remote or unlocking the device.

When it comes to a custom UI, we strongly recommend looking into third-party interface overlay applications which allow you to do whatever you like with your home screens. Our favourite is Action Launcher Pro coupled with the likes of Nox and DashClock, but there are a plethora of options available through Google Play.

Related content:

Five reasons to avoid the new HTC One (M8)
Full review of the HTC One (M8)
Five reasons to buy the new HTC One (M8)
Who makes the better smartphone? Samsung or HTC?
The best smartphones of 2014

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Tags BYODGoogleAndroidiosTelcosmartphonesoftwarehardwareTelecommunicationsmobile phoneTouchWizApple iphone 5sKit Kat4.4HTC One (M8)Samsung Galaxy S5

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